Check-up: Former minister for health James Reilly

Exit from post in 2014 when health service reeling from budget cuts and staffing levels

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly: Ended up, on occasion, being publicly blamed for decisions forced on him by others in the Cabinet. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly: Ended up, on occasion, being publicly blamed for decisions forced on him by others in the Cabinet. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Before he was appointed as minister for health, James Reilly made a startling prophecy about his time in office.

“I know there will be blood on the floor and I know some of it will be mine, but I relish the prospect of being health minister.”

Three years in office proved how true this forecast had been. Reilly departed in July 2014 after experiencing a torrid period overseeing a health service reeling from cuts to budgets and staffing levels. His political stock was hit by controversies over cuts to medical cards and by self-inflicted wounds such as his efforts to prioritise the building of primary care centres in two sites in his own constituency which were exposed in this newspaper.

His status as a senior government minister was also affected when he became the first serving member of the Cabinet in the history of the State to be named in Stubbs Gazette over a business debt.

He was unfortunate in coming to office at a time of severe austerity and politically he failed to convince some key Cabinet colleagues of the merits of his reforms .

He also ended up, on occasion, being publicly blamed for decisions forced on him by others in the Cabinet.

Reilly got his radical plans for universal health insurance as far as a White Paper, but the steam went out of the project as soon as he left office.

As an opposition spokesman, he harried Mary Harney relentlessly and was a strong critic of the HSE which she created. He planned to abolish the health authority, however that move too now seems to have been abandoned.

Reilly did have some successes in office. His special delivery unit made a dent in the numbers on trolleys and on waiting lists – but these have increased again after his departure.

The new clinical directorate system in hospitals worked well and there were significant improvements in cancer and stroke outcomes. He showed courage in taking on the tobacco industry against ferocious lobbying.